The FT Word – April 2004

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the April 2004 issue of the FT Word.  Please share the FT Word with colleagues. A special thank you to all of you who heeded the call last month and welcome to the many new subscribers this month.

In this month’s issue:

·          managing self-service bug reporting

·          using instant messaging as a support tool

Self-service Bug Reporting

Thanks to Alva Tse for suggesting this topic.

Customers with a valid support contract can report suspected defects through the support channel. The defect then makes its way to the Engineering organization, where it is validated, and perhaps fixed. The process may be long and frustrating, but it’s there.

What about customers who do not have a support contract? Should they also be invited to submit bug reports (and enhancement requests)? And how should such reports be handled? Read on.

1. Be honest: will you use the data?

Self-service bug reporting is only a gimmick if no one looks at the reports. If you have a large backlog of bugs from the existing support channel that haven’t been reviewed by Engineering, why add more to the mix? Don’t create extra work for yourself if it won’t deliver any benefits.

2. Be honest (again): Do customers care?

If the vast majority of your customers have a support contract, don’t bother with self-service bug reporting. But on the other hand, your user community may dictate you offer it.

3. Collect enough information

It’s very easy to collect data, harder to collect real information, that is, meaningful data. Especially in self-service, collect exhaustive details about the problem. You can even provide tools for automatically generating logs and such. And don’t forget to ask for the reporter’s contact information in case you need more details once you start analyzing the bug.

4. Don’t create a back door into support

Self-service bug reporting is for customers who do not have a support contract. An automated submission acknowledgement is ok, but don’t provide a personalized response (except if you need more information). This is critical!

5. Use FAQs to provide proactive bug information

If you collect bug reports online, it makes sense to provide bug information online as well. For practical and legal reasons, you only need to show a subset of known bugs. In particular, release notes showing fixed bugs are much appreciated.

Using Instant Messaging as a Support Tool

Thanks to Thomas Ploss for suggesting this topic.

Teenagers rely on instant messaging (IM) tools to run their social life. Can it be used for technical support? Yes. Here are some tips on how to make IM work for support. (I use IM, messaging, and chat interchangeably here although there are technical differences between them. The meaning should be clear from the context.)

1. Use IM as a proactive communication channel with customers

If you decide to use IM as a way for customers to request support, you create a new support channel. Moreover, since IM support must be near-instantaneous, it means that you need to staff that channel with great attention to scheduling, much like a phone channel. In many cases, it makes sense to use messaging only at the discretion of the support engineer, who can start a chat session if needed to troubleshoot the problem.

When used at the discretion of the support engineer, I find that messaging is readily accepted and used by the support staff.

2. Use IM for background conversations

IM is a great way to collaborate with other support staffers about a customer’s situation, whether the customer is on the line or not. Many support organizations use messaging today for that purpose, sometimes without the knowledge of the support managers.

If you intend to use chat as an official second-level support channel, you need to staff it as you would other communication channels. Expect pushback from the second-line engineers as they fear multiple interruptions over the course of a day (and pushback from the first-line engineers if they don’t get answers.) Over time, the second-line will see that answering “quick questions” quickly has many advantages for productivity, but it will take time and effort to convince them.

3. Capture chat conversations

Many support organizations use standard chat tools that have no link with the support-tracking system. So conversations occur, they may be recorded in the chat tool itself, but they are not reflected in the support-tracking tool. With a bit of discipline, support engineers can be asked to record a summary of the conversation in the tracking tool.

Full, automated recording is best for productivity and in case either party needs to refer to details later on. Because few tracking systems include a chat tool compromise is often needed. Fortunately, full integration is not a requirement for success.

4. Use screen sharing and screen control

Some chat tools include powerful features including screen sharing (you see what I see; or I see what you see) and screen control (I can make your screen do what I want). If the support engineer is trying to diagnose a situation, being able to screen-share is a powerful shortcut. And if s/he needs to show the customer how to accomplish a particular task, screen control is what’s needed. Appropriate permission is granted by the customer.

5. Implement a corporate solution

You can start tomorrow with a commercial, consumer-oriented tool. If you’re serious about the technology, however, select and implement a corporate solution, one that allows you to control access, security, and permissions. It should also have features such as groups (so you can address a query to a team instead of individuals). High-end collaboration tools also allow to queue questions that cannot be handled immediately for resolution later on.

6. Integrate IM and the knowledge base

IM is a great way to showplace the knowledge base: simply point to relevant articles within the chat session. And chat sessions, especially internal conversations, are great venues for generating new knowledge. This is another reason to integrate the chat tool with other support tools. Even without a tight integration, put in place simple processes to facilitate transferring interesting information from chat to the knowledge base.

FT Works in the News

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Making Train-The-Trainer Programs work. You can read it at

It was wonderful to see so many of you at last week’s SSPA conference. A Tailored Fit, a joint presentation I made with Mark Angel of Kanisa, was well-attended. The slides will be posted on the SSPA site shortly and I’m happy to email them to anyone who would appreciate learning about how to customize the self-service experience to fit your customer needs (just drop me an email).

Hot topics at the SSPA meeting included many of my favorites:

·    outsourcing (see the Successful Support Outsourcing booklet)

·    metrics for support (see the Best Practices for Support Metrics booklet )

·    maximizing support revenue (see The 10 Commandments of Support Pricing booklet )


Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

About FT Works

FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at

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